True Greatness

Mark 10: 32-45
Sir 36: 1,4-5a,10-17 / Psa 79

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
(Mark 10:45)

The self-important are misled
To think that power leads to greatness,
If only they can see instead,
That to be great means to be selfless.

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way; they were amazed, while those who followed were afraid. Again He took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to Him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” He said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.”

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:32-45)


The apostles James and John must have felt that they were the most privileged, along with Simon Peter, among the twelve leaders chosen by our Lord. After all, they were the cousins of Jesus, and had accompanied Him in all His important activities — like the transfiguration, and the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mk.5:37) among others. In fact these three apostles were the most zealous followers of Jesus, and knowing this, James and John must have felt that they were the most deserving of the high positions that the Lord’s kingdom had to offer. Thus they craved for recognition. But Jesus again made it clear, as He had always impressed in His teachings that humble service is the key to real greatness.

In any organization (including the Church, in some instances), those who are called upon to lead are the most susceptible to the delusion of rank, self-importance and prestige. Leaders would be well advised therefore to always keep in mind the words in Proverbs 16:18 — “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” A good leader is one whose only ambition is how to serve his organization well, and in the process improve the well-being of its members, all without fanfare. He knows that leadership entails great sacrifice, at times beyond the limits of his responsibility, but he accepts the challenge not for prestige or reward, but for his sense of service. St. Paul, who lived by his words, wrote: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith that God has apportioned” (Rom.12:3). If ever we feel that we have the talents or gifts that will benefit our community or organization, we should never feel that we deserve the recognition of our peers, but instead just be grateful to the Lord for the privilege of serving in His kingdom, acknowledging that these are graces that he has bestowed for a purpose much higher than ourselves.

True greatness can only be achieved through genuine service and the persecution of all our ambitions in life. It is through the little sacrifices we perform, like donating blood, visiting the sick or imprisoned, comforting the bereaved, helping build homes for the homeless, doing without to support a scholarship — the list can go on and on. It’s all about selflessness, the opposite of the world’s view of greatness.

We seek to be Your leaders, Lord God, by serving others in our community. Grant that we may never be overcome by self-importance whenever we accomplish the mission You set out for us to do, for we are merely servants doing what is expected of us to do. Amen.

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